Who should change their toothbrush after an infection?

The Pediatric Insider

© 2013 Roy Benaroch, MD

Wendy wrote in, “My doctor has told me to change the toothbrush after a child has strep. Will it help after other infections, too?”

It may help the fine folks at Proctor and Gamble (makers of the Oral B line o’ tooth cleaning products) but it probably won’t help anyone in your family.

This business about changing toothbrushes after strep: I know it’s common wisdom, but I can’t find any support for it—no one officially recommends it, even the CDC. Their own “Use and Handling of Toothbrushes” page—yes, they have one—says “…no published research data documents that brushing with a contaminated toothbrush has led to re-contamination of a user’s mouth, oral infections, or other adverse health effects.” The American Dental Association says that tooth brush changing may be a good idea for those with immune-compromising conditions, or for patients or family members with a serious transmissible disease. (Family member? Look, if you’re sharing toothbrushes, ew. Of course change them. Or, better yet, get a different one for each family member. They even come in different colors now to help keep track.)

I did find one study that actually looked at this strep business, done in Sweden in 1998. They found 114 cases of strep, and randomized these families to get either hygiene education or, I think, a free couch from Ikea. The hygiene families were told to toss their toothbrushes, clean their linens, wash their toys, and go buy their own Dang couches*. At followup, 35% of the families had at least one recurrence of strep, but the rate was the same in the two groups. New toothbrushes (and new couches) made no difference.

There’s no studies, anywhere, about changing toothbrushes after common infections. But it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to change the toothbrush. What you’re trying to prevent is the next cold, with the next new virus—reducing exposures to a virus that’s already made your child sick is like buying a new couch after the relatives have already gone home.

I know, enough with the couch jokes. Sorry.

Anyway: change your kids toothbrush when the bristles worn, or when they’re otherwise looking grody. If it makes you feel better to change them after strep, be my guest. But it’s not doing your family any good to buy a new one every time someone’s sick.

*-Dang is the name of an Ikea couch. I think they have others named Frood and Smoot-Hawley.

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One Comment on “Who should change their toothbrush after an infection?”

  1. Mindy Says:

    Thanks for answering this question. I’ve always wondered why some doctors suggest this. If a virus is still running around in my body and my immune system has already figured out how to wipe it out and is in the process of wiping it out, how could my toothbrush make any difference? If the same virus could reinfect so easily, we would never get over any colds we ever have because we’re constantly getting it all over the house (on surfaces, towels, etc)


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